Deciding to Delay a Decision: A Show of Strong Leadership?

There’s the idolization of Barack Obama within the traditional media, and within the blogosphere as well. A good example of the latter is Andrew Sullivan. Recently he wrote one of the most extolatory pieces on a president I’ve ever come across – based on an action the president didn’t take!

It was titled “We Have a President”. A title like that implies that 10-odd months into his presidency, Barack Obama really has proved himself as president. The occasion? Obama’s decision not to decide yet on Afghanistan.

As of this writing Obama finally has decided to send 30,000 troops there, but in early November the president’s war council presented him with four options regarding Afghanistan. He initially turned down those options. That really impressed Sullivan, who wrote, “What strikes me about this is the enormous self-confidence this reveals. Here is a young president, prepared to allow himself to be portrayed as ‘weak’ or ‘dithering’ in the slow and meticulous arrival at public policy.” In fact, it’s “a kind of strength we haven’t seen in a president since Reagan.”

People like U.K. minister of defense Bob Ainsworth, who publicly criticized the president for his delays in deciding to send more troops, begged to differ. That Obama took such a long time to decide was a common refrain from many other quarters as well. And Tina Brown of the Daily Beast wrote, “he can’t adequately convey either the imperatives or the military strategy of the war in Afghanistan because he doesn’t really believe in it either.”

Sullivan’s contention that the president’s decision to delay his decision was a show of strong leadership is not convincing to say the least. Given Obama’s votes of “present” 129 times while a state senator, it instead seems like a manifestation of a propensity for indecision – i.e. weak leadership.

And Sullivan’s panegyric was way premature. One won’t know whether Obama’s decision to be “slow and meticulous” was meritorious until a few of years from now when we see what happens in Afghanistan.

Obama’s eventual decision, a month after being presented with the four options, to commit 30,000 additional troops was not that different from one of the options presented to him earlier: to send 34,000 troops.

And according to George Friedman of STRATFOR Global Intelligence, Obama’s 30,000 troops isn’t enough to defeat the Taliban, but rather to quell the Taliban long enough to train and turn over the fight to Afghan forces. And Friedman isn’t optimistic that that’s a viable strategy.

But only time will tell. In any event, few people other than Sullivan think that Obama’s long delays in deciding exhibits strong leadership.